COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Done in D-II
ALLENDALE, Mich. - UND's association with NCAA Division II football ended Saturday on a cold, windy playing surface at Grand Valley State. It also ended with two of UND's best players sitting on the bench, unable to help the Sioux win a final nat...
ALLENDALE, Mich. - UND's association with NCAA Division II football ended Saturday on a cold, windy playing surface at Grand Valley State.
It also ended with two of UND's best players sitting on the bench, unable to help the Sioux win a final national title before they move to Division I next season.
UND left Lubbers Stadium battered and bruised, falling 21-14 to two-time defending national champion Grand Valley.
More than 4,800 fans watched the Lakers win the Division II second-round playoff game with a dominating rushing game and an even more impressive defense - one that seemingly had speedy players everywhere.
"As a coach, I couldn't be more proud of this team, the way they hung in there," said an emotional Dale Lennon, whose team finished with a playoff loss against Grand Valley for the third straight year. "The guys never gave up. Any coach in the country would be proud of the way these guys played together."
Grand Valley won its 39th straight game and advanced to the quarterfinal round, where it will host surprising Central Washington, which stunned Nebraska-Omaha 20-17 in another second-round game Saturday.
December date dashed
Had UND won, the Sioux would have been at home against Central Washington. But there was a question after the game whether the Sioux would have had enough healthy playmakers to make another run to Florence, Ala., the site of the Division II title game.
Ryan Chappell, UND's big rushing threat, carried the ball only four times for 8 yards. The sprained ankle he suffered a week ago was far from 100 percent. Josh Murray, Chappell's backup, did play, but he, too, was hurting with a shoulder injury.
UND managed only 36 rushing yards on 26 carries. That was a big factor since another windy day in Allendale made it difficult to pass. Grand Valley had two 100-yard rushers and racked up 280 yards on the ground.
"Naturally, we would have liked to have had Ryan Chappell in the game," Lennon said of his 1,600-yard rusher. "But give credit to Josh Murray. He played hurt. We were just trying to find ways to move the football.
"We had our chances down the stretch, but we couldn't come up with any big plays."
A hurting unit
Injuries weren't confined to UND's running game. Quarterback Danny Freund suffered a shoulder injury late in the second quarter. He tried to play briefly in the third quarter but was replaced by Jake Landry, who led the Sioux to both of their touchdowns.
"Danny probably played more than he should have in the third quarter," Lennon said.
Grand Valley got up big early.
Blake Smolen, who led the Lakers with 139 rushing yards on 27 carries, scored on a 17-yard run late in the first quarter. Brad Iciek threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Brandon Horn with 2:20 left in the second quarter for a 14-0 halftime lead. That score capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive.
The Lakers went up 21-0 after Brent Halfmann's blocked punt attempt led to John Mathews' 22-yard scoring pass from Iciek early in the third quarter.
But the Sioux came back on Landry's 39-yard scoring pass to Weston Dressler and on Murray's 3-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 21-14.
"We played pretty good," Grand Valley coach Chuck Martin said. "Our defense played fantastic football. It's a credit to North Dakota that they found a way to come back after they were down 21-0."
Last gasps go awry
The Sioux came back but couldn't come up with the big play in the final quarter.
Two series in particular stood out.
Bobby Stroup recovered a James Berezik fumble at the Laker 40 with 10:50 left. But the Sioux went three-and-out, as Dan Skuta's 7-yard sack of Landry on third down forced a punt.
The Lakers then ran nearly seven minutes off the clock on their ensuing drive, which was highlighted by a 10-yard Iciek pass to tight end Scott Blasko on fourth-and-9. Blasko, a four-year Air Force veteran, broke a couple of tackles on the play, and his effort bought Grand Valley more time.
The Sioux eventually gained possession at their 13 with 1:59 to go, but they faced a brisk wind with two of their biggest playmakers on the bench with injuries.
"Injuries will happen, but that's why it's a team game," said Dressler, who played his last game in a remarkable Sioux career. "We felt we had a strong team with the depth we had."
UND's season officially came to an end when dominating linebacker Anthony Adams sacked Landry on fourth-and-1 from the Sioux 22 with 50 seconds to go.
"My only thought was don't miss that sack," said Adams, who led the Lakers with 12 tackles, including two sacks.
Grand Valley won by a touchdown but dominated the statistics. The Lakers finished with 433 yards of offense to UND's 212. But two Grand Valley fumbles gave UND chances.
"It was a weird game, which these games usually are," Martin said. "But if we play like this, we'll have a chance every week we play."
The Division II powers ended their postseason rivalry with the Lakers winning four of the six games they played since 2001.
"It was a good, old-fashioned football game," Lennon said. "Today's game is high scoring with a lot of gadget plays. This one was just a grind-it-out game. Part of the problem we had was trying to find ways to consistently move the football. We were just struggling to find an offensive flow."